The Orange Leader
WEST ORANGE —
So the West Orange-Stark-Jasper game this season really wasn’t a “dream.”
The two old Southeast Texas rivals, after seeing their non-district game get washed away by bad weather on Sept. 20, will duke it out Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Humble’s Turner Stadium in the Class 3A Region III Division I semifinals.
No question about it, both the Mustangs (10-1) and Bulldogs (8-3) are both red-hot entering the tilt.
Both have won their two playoff games by piling up the yardage.
In wins over Huffman (41-9) and West Columbia (61-7) the District 21-3A champion Mustangs have piled up 986 total yards as quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole has passed for 656 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the 20-3A runnerup Bulldogs have amassed 1,059 total yards in wins over Palestine (44-34) and Waco LaVega (58-20).
The Bulldogs have won seven out of their last eight games after early non-district losses to Kirbyville and Orangefield.
“It would’ve been nice to have played Jasper earlier in the season but that’s just the way things fell that night,” said Thompson. “I know one thing, it’s a totally different Jasper team now compared to the one we were getting ready to play back in September. They’ve really been on a roll of late.”
The Mustangs, though, could turn to their old “bellcow”, which is the Chain Gang defense.
WO-S is allowing just 211 yards a game for the season and has upped the ante in the postseason, allowing just 107.5, including just 35 against West Columbia.
A still youthful Mustang team will face a Bulldog unit that sports 28 seniors, including a veteran offensive unit led by three-year staring quarterback Steven Walker and running back Terrence Cuney.
“Our kids have really gotten after it and have had a really good run so far and are playing really well and sometimes you have to remember we’re still a young football team,” said Thompson. “Jasper has 28 seniors and guys that have been through some big games. It should be a good one. We’ve just got to go out and play smart, sound football.”
The Bulldogs have been shredding defenses of late.
In their two playoff wins, Cuney has erupted for 476 yards rushing and six TDs on 50 carries to spark the attack.
Walker has competed 13-of-24 passes and has thrown for 332 yards and four TDs in the playoff wins.
The Bulldogs also have plenty of other weapons that includes Randy Spikes, Chris Spikes, Shawn Jones and Jamarcus Reed.
“It’s the same old Jasper, they have athletes all over the place,” said Thompson. “They’re always capable of the big play and they’ve been getting them, especially in the playoffs.”
Jasper’s defense has plenty to prepare for in the form of the balanced Mustangs, who are averaging almost 400 yards a game.
Sterling-Cole has been nothing short of amazing, staying cool and calm for a sophomore who is about to start his third playoff game already.
He’s been on the money for most of the season, especially down the stretch and has completed 117-of-186 passes for 2,030 yards and 24 TDs with just two interceptions.
Receiver Will Johnson has been on a tear in the postseason, catching 13 passes for 268 yards and six scores. He now has 36 receptions for 690 yards and 12 TDs.
No question, Sterling-Cole has plenty of firepower to get the ball to including Deionte Thompson (31-595-4), Dwain Boullard (21-302-7), Chris Horn (15-202-0), Chris James (12-135-1) and Tre Spencer (10-208-2).
Both James (97-642-8) and Chase Rutledge (83-441-5) bring swiftness and power to the running game with Sterling-Cole (96-427-11) also getting in on the act.
“Offensively, we’ve been moving the ball well and Eddie (offensive coordinator Ed Dyer) has been doing a great job mixing it up,” said Thompson.
One thing for sure, this certainly isn’t the first “rodeo” in the playoffs between the Mustangs and Bulldogs in the postseason.
The Mustangs have won five of the previous six meeting including 21-15 on their first run to the 4A state title in 1986; 38-15 in 1988; 41-7 in 1993; 27-12 in 1997 and 23-0 in 2000 on their way to a state runnerup season. The Bulldogs won in 1994 17-6.
“We’ve had some good ones over the years, that’s for sure,” said Thompson. “There’s a lot of history there. It should be a good game. It just gets tougher each week and you just want to be the one standing each week. The kids have done a really good job accepting that weekly challenge and hopefully we’ll be right back here practicing again next week.”
Both District 21-3A and 20-3A have represented the 3A Region III Division I bracket well with four teams in the regional semifinals.
20-3A champion Carthage will take on 21-3A runnerup Silsbee Friday at 4 p.m. at Lamar University with that winner getting the WO-S-Jasper winner.